Tesla CEO Elon Musk is all about disruption. That means electric cars instead of the more common gas guzzlers and direct sales in place of dealerships. Unfortunately for Musk, auto dealers are often a powerful political constituency, and have managed to get legislation passed in numerous states banning direct sales. Today, West Virginia joined that group, when Governor Ray Tomblin signed into law a bill that prevents manufacturers from operating their own dealerships.
Similar laws have passed recently in New Jersey and Michigan. The ban in New Jersey was subsequently overturned. That was a big deal for Tesla, as the Garden State is one of the largest markets for the expensive cars it sells. West Virginia is a much smaller market, but it would have given Tesla access to customers in surrounding areas like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Washington, DC.
"I'm sorry — my electricity isn't free."
Tesla's direct sales are currently banned in five states and under attack in court in another six. May other states are rolling out proposed bills. It's worth pointing out that West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole is apparently a long time auto dealer. He abstained from voting on this measure. Cole owns a Nissan dealership, and has some experience with Tesla customers.
"Nissan makes us put public charging stations outside our dealerships. So I've sold a couple of Leafs, and nobody uses them," Cole told Auto News. "But I have a guy who bought a Tesla that pulls up to my dealership every day and plugs right in because his office is close. I'm sorry — my electricity isn't free. But he doesn't have any problem pulling his Tesla into my Nissan store and laughing and leaving it on charge."
Gov. Tomblin had initially resisted the bill. "One of my goals is to attract businesses or bring jobs into the state," he told The Washington Times. "I have a lot of friends who are car dealers, and maybe they would like to protect their turf, but at the same time, it’s just another business."
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